When it comes to holidays, being an expat in Japan is a mixed bag. Even though I miss my family and friends, I’m quite content to sit out on the insanity of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Halloween, however, is the holiday I miss the most. I first came to Japan in 2005, and I remember that, other than the foreign exchange students, Baskin Robbins, and some foreigner-bars in Osaka, no one really celebrated Halloween. (This may have been different in Tokyo, of course, given the large number of expats living there.)
Last year, I was shocked to see young Japanese people in Kanazawa dressed up and out at the bars on Halloween weekend. This year, it seems like businesses have really latched onto Halloween as a seasonal/marketing ploy–my coworkers and friends have also expressed their shock that Halloween is booming here.
I think a lot of the recent popularity has to do with English education in elementary schools; since Halloween is a non-religious holiday and, in its contemporary incarnation, is based on children wearing costumes, eating candy, and having fun, most of the customs are easy to explain and to base activities around for English classes and international/multicultural events for young learners. The generation of Japanese children that has grown up drawing jack-o-lanterns with ALTs and attending community Halloween parties is starting to rub off on the culture in general. That, and Japanese companies have figured out that Halloween can be used for seasonal goods–it’s fun, it’s exotic, and, even if they didn’t intend it to bring in the foreign consumers, it does.
Halloween is my favorite holiday, When I see something in Japan with a jack-o-lantern or a ghost on it, I feel compelled to buy it or eat it, especially if it is pumpkin flavored. I love kabocha, of course, but I miss carving and eating orange American pumpkins, and I really miss all the pumpkin-flavored sweets and lattes at the store. I don’t even like Starbucks, but I get a little torn up thinking about not having a pumpkin-spice latte when my Facebook feed explodes the day Starbucks starts selling them. I could make my own if only I could get my hands on some pumpkin puree.
Latte or no, in hopes of documenting Japan’s increasing awareness and consumption of Halloween, I have tried to photograph any instances of Halloween marketing or goods I have seen in Kanazawa this October. Today: Halloween Pumpkin Cheesecake Kit Kats (パンプキン・チーズケーキ).
I first read about this flavor on Super Happy Awesome Fun Time, and finally picked some up this weekend at my supermarket.
The wrappers have four different jack-o-lantern faces on them; one bag has 13 mini Kit Kats.
No, they’re not pumpkin spice, but they are delicious. The candy consists of a cream filling (that acts as the glue between the wafers) of “natural cheese” and pumpkin powder and pumpkin-flavored chocolate coating. The explanation on the back of the bag reads, “Let’s enjoy Halloween! This flavor has the gentle sweetness of pumpkin and the freshness of cheese. We hope you enjoy this flavor, which is based on pumpkin cheesecake, a popular Halloween dessert.”*
I’m not sure what to make of this statement. This is, of course, from the country that thinks Americans eat KFC and cake** on Christmas. Sure, adults might make a pumpkin cheesecake for a Halloween party, but I think most of us are more likely to eat Kit Kats on Halloween than cheesecake.
All I could think when reading that line was “Ah, yes, now that it is Halloween, it is time to make my traditional pumpkin cheesecake, as is the custom in the old country!”
Maybe they’re on to something….
Stay tuned for more Halloween in Japan!
**Not Stollen, but a straight-up Japanese-style cake with fluffy white frosting and strawberries. If Japanese people want to have KFC and Christmas cake on Christmas, more power to them, but please stop telling people that these are holiday foods in the US, okay?